NEPZA fund: Lawmakers to reopen N14.376b audit query

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LIVE UPDATES: 2020 Budget PresentationThe Senate Tuesday said that it planned to pursue the query and inquiry of how over N14. 376 billion was allegedly moved out the 2017 budget of Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA).

The upper chamber said that N14, 376,027,084.65 was illegally transferred from the 2017 budget of NEPZA to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Trade and Investment, Senator Rose Oko, stated this during the 2020 budget defence of the Ministry of Trade and Investment.

Oko said that the alleged transfer was a breach of the 2017 Appropriation Act which her committee intended to see the query and inquiry to a logical conclusion.

Oko said: “The Committee is aware of the existing legislative query on the Ministry and the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) of the N14, 376,027,084.65 illegally transferred from the 2017 Appropriation Budget of NEPZA to Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.

“This is a breach of the 2017 Appropriation Act. This Committee intends to see the query and inquiry to a logical conclusion and seek an explanation how that sum got moved from government coffers ostensibly to a private company without due process and without provision of goods and services.”

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Investment, Mr. Edet Akpan, however said that the NEPZA should be in a proper position to explain the fund transfer to members of the committee.

Akpan said, “The N14billion in respect of NEPZA is an item NEPZA should be in a very proper position to explain to the committee and I believe NEPZA would find a way of doing that. “But the idea of opening an equity company was the creative idea of the former Minister. He believed it was more proper to have a centralized equity company that could manage all Free Trade Zones in the country – where investors could contribute towards a particular purse so that money realized from there would now be applied to create and develop free trade zones. And it was also believed that NEPZA and oil and gas free trade zone should concentrate on regulatory aspects (of their mandates) and not getting themselves involved in operations. “That was why it was the decision that an equity company was necessary to be created. But then, in all he did throughout that period, he consulted very widely and he also got approval of the Federal Executive Council.

“There was also an Inter-Ministerial Committee to manage the affairs of free trade zones.

Now, the Minister also requested from the Budget Office the sum N48billion to be appropriated for purpose of that investment in 2017.

“Unfortunately, the amount that was released for that purpose was about N14billion. And that N14billion was again 100 per cent controlled by NEPZA.

“It had nothing to do with the main ministry because the main ministry hadn’t the power or authority or anything to do in respect of the amount that was appropriated under a particular agency of the ministry.

“So that was how it was done, but then, when the Minister thought of implementing the programme, he had meetings with NEPZA for the purpose of requesting that NZESCO was set up and that he had gotten the directives of the Federal Executive Council that that money should now be applied and now he requested that NEPZA should then transfer that money to an account that was opened at the CBN. That was done.

“I think in the course of trying to implement the policy of the ministry, a kind of disagreement in terms of who were the subscribers to the company.

“I think one of those subscribers was the Ministry of Finance incorporated and one Mr. Wadinga was chosen as the representative of the Ministry of Finance at that body. There were also some names from outside.

“The concept according to the Honourable Minister in selling it to the public was that for it to be formally incorporated, it need not have much of government as shareholders. So it was proper that he made use of the private sector. So that was how it came. But then, your predecessor in in office, some observations that the execution of that project should be put on hold. So that was how NEPZA then wrote to CBN, that money should not be appropriated in favour of NZESCO. But from 2018, it came in as an item of expenditure in the budget and the sum of N9billion was appropriated for that purpose.

“I cannot say whether any aspect of that was released to NEPZA or not but they will be able to explain that. So as it is now, that money is in CBN. We did brief the two Honourable ministers when they came on board and I think the minister has also consulted with the appropriate authorities on what the next line of action should be in terms of implementing that programme.”

The Eight Senate tackled the immediate past minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, over the transfer of the fund.

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